Tuesday, July 12, 2016 12:05:00 PM

When auto dealerships were the primary source of information for car buyers, brands had significant power to control the consumer journey and build lifelong loyalty. Today, shoppers are using mobile devices to expand their research network and find real-time information about everything from features and deals to pricing and inventory. Brands that provide mobile-optimized content that's both useful and up to date are more likely to hook shoppers during the research phase and successfully guide them to a purchase.

Consumers Value Self-Guided Mobile Research

Dealerships once relied on in-person visits to educate consumers, negotiate deals and promote auto features, and this influential interaction gave them opportunities to shape consumer perception early in the process. Yet, TNS research shows the average consumer now makes only two dealership visits before purchasing a car, giving sales representatives fewer chances to make face-to-face connections.

Consumers are taking control of their own purchase path, but brand marketers can still gain influence by providing content at the right time and place. More than 85 percent of shoppers conduct in-depth auto research online, according to Millward Brown Digital. Approximately 56 percent of shoppers start with auto review sites, while 30 percent perform online searches first. By comparison, 86 percent visit auto manufacturers' sites last. Rather than leading with a hard sell, auto dealers can drive purchasing activity by understanding search behavior and optimizing their content to attract consumers when they first start conducting research.

Target Car Purchasers at Crucial Micro-Moments

Millward Brown Digital estimates roughly six out of 10 shoppers are initially uncertain about what car to purchase. As a result, shoppers are using mobile devices for research on and off the dealership lot to handle questions as they arise. Marketers can sway the decision-making process by answering these intent-driven questions at key moments when shoppers are weighing the benefits of one car brand or dealership over another.

Comparison

Most consumers start with the most unbiased sources: car aficionados in their personal network, authoritative review sites, such as Edmunds, and auto blogs and forums. In this early stage, consumers want to identify the best cars, and they rely heavily on videos and images to spark an emotional response. Marketers and dealerships can generate interest with detailed auto comparisons and expert reviews that answer the most pressing questions about what each vehicle has to offer. At the same time, show visually appealing footage that makes it easy for consumers to visualize themselves behind the wheel.

Essential Checklist

After building a broad list of cars, consumers start filtering their selection based on their lifestyle needs. Do they need the most fuel efficiency? Road safety? Cargo space? Seating capacity? For example, research shows searches relating to towing capacity increase approximately 30 percent year over year, while interest in fuel efficiency depends on gas price trends. Create keyword descriptions, auto profiles and reviews that target specific consumer needs, driving shopper to your content when they look for "family friend cars with high seating capacity and large trunk."

Affordability

Searches for MSRP and list prices increase about 25 percent year over year, while interest in trade-in value peaked in July 2015, with more than 50 percent of searches occurring on mobile devices. Shoppers want the best deal, and they don't want to be taken advantage of. Consumers use mobile shopping to obtain up-to-the-minute price comparisons at any time and place, and dealerships that provide clear, accurate information upfront improve their chances of getting shoppers to visit the lot. Car buyers typically perform budget-based searches early on, making it crucial for dealerships to use optimized keywords, such as "best SUVs under $20,000," to attract money-conscious customers.

Dealership Preference

With a narrowed search, consumers start looking for the right dealership based on proximity, inventory, service hours, pricing and current promotions. Shoppers use mobile devices to find local dealerships, a portion of which leads to immediate calls or visits. At every step, marketers must satisfy their search needs by providing real-time data that demonstrates the value consumers get by specifically doing business with your brand or dealership.

Make sure your dealership has visibility in both online searches and local media, and design easily navigable mobile sites that answer all questions about product availability, features and cost. For help optimizing your ads, contact the LA Times today.

Categories: Automotive, Consumer Insights

Tags: consumer insights, Automotive